In the wake of last summer’s brutal murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin, millions of people around the country started to take part in racial-justice protests that have necessarily continued to this day—thanks to, most recently, the killing of a 20 year-old Black man pulled over for air fresheners allegedly blocking his rearview mirror and the fatal shooting of a 16 year-old Black girl shortly before the jury reached a verdict in the Chauvin case.
Republicans, obviously, do not like these protests for a variety of reasons, chief among them being their insistence that racism does not exist. (As you may have noticed, they really, really do not like being called out for their part of the problem, hence slogans like “All Lives Matter“ and the unhinged meltdown by a certain rightwing talking head over Chauvin‘s conviction.) As last year’s protest hit a fever pitch, Donald Trump threatened to unleash “law and order,” i.e. police brutality, on people attempting to have their voices heard, tweeting on Juneteenth: “Any protesters, anarchists, agitators, looters or lowlifes who are going to Oklahoma please understand, you will not be treated like you have been in New York, Seattle, or Minneapolis.” Demonizing activists and demonstrators became a regular feature of his campaign in which, on a near daily basis, he warned voters that the Black Lives Matter movement was a “symbol of hate” embraced by Democrats as part of plan to destroy white people‘s comfortable suburban lives. If he could have made it legal to attack a protestor for displaying a sign one didn’t like, he most definitely would have.
Trump, of course, didn‘t get to that, his focus being turned elsewhere amidst his quest to overturn the 2020 election. But his Republican brethren, equally incensed by the notion of people speaking out against systemic racism, are hard at work on the task.
Following the signing of a Florida “anti-riot” law that, among things, grants civil immunity to people who decide to drive their cars into protesters who are blocking a road and makes it a second-degree felony to destroy a plaque, memorial, painting, flag, or other structure commemorating historical people or events, the New York Times reports that GOP lawmakers in dozens of states have introduce anti-protest bills meant to silence people speaking out for justice. Oklahoma and Iowa, for instance, were apparently inspired by what Florida did re: basically encouraging drivers to strike protestors with their cars, and passed similar bills granting legal protections in certain situation for drivers who hit protestors supposedly blocking the street. In Indiana, a Republican proposal would ban anyone convicted of unlawful assembly from holding state employment. A Minnesota bill would bar people convicted of unlawful protesting from receiving unemployment benefits, housing assistance, and even student loans. In Kentucky, where Breonna Taylor was killed by the police inside her apartment last year, the State Senate passed a bill that would make it a crime to insult a police officer with “offensive or derisive” words or gestures that could “provoke a violent response.” (In other words, one could be charged for using words that caused a police officer to violently respond to them.) That measure would have required those arrested to be held in jail for a minimum of 48 hours, a rule that does not automatically apply to people arrested in Kentucky on charges of arson, rape, or murder. While the bill died in the statehouse, its lead sponsor, Republican State Senator Danny Carroll, said he would refile it next session.
As the Times notes, these bills are completely unnecessary given the fact that (1) last summer’s protests were overwhelmingly peaceful—96% involved no police damage or police injuries, while a report found that it was police officers or counterprotesters who often instigated violence and (2) laws already exist to punish rioting. Instead, the measures are clearly aimed at scaring people into staying silent.
The laws carry forward the hyperbolic message Republicans have been pushing in the 11 months since Black Lives Matter protests against racial injustice swept the country: that Democrats are tolerant of violent and criminal actions from those who protest against racial injustice. And the legislation underscores the extent to which support for law enforcement personnel and opposition to protests have become part of the bedrock of G.O.P. orthodoxy and a likely pillar of the platform the party will take into next year’s midterms.